How To Build Your Personal Brand As A Developer
8 Sep 2016
12 minute read
Why build a personal brand?
As Jeff Attwood puts it, “Mere competence in a technical discipline is not enough. That's the minimum required to keep your head above water.” To stay in demand long term, you must do something remarkable to really shine.
How do you build a personal brand?
First, Think about what you want to do long term.
What’s your preferred ultimate balance of coding/mentoring/management?
Do you want to become a technical lead, a software architect, or move into business leadership? This will influence what you put yourself forward for, and what you might want to discuss often and become a thought leader in.
Also, it’s crucial to find a way to explain why you’re good at what you do to non-technical people, especially when you’re dealing with HR, and people in other teams.
What type of company do you want to work for? A big corporate? A startup? Yourself? As long as it’s remote? This will determine how to talk about your personality. Should your presentation of yourself emphasize how business-like you are, or how creative you are or how good you are at self-management?
Find a unique username
Use it for everything. This is a simple way to make yourself recognisable across the web.
Stay active on GitHub
GitHub is online software project hosting. As it says on the cover, it’s the hub for open source code, a great way to prove you know how to code like a professional. You can upload reusable components you’ve created, or just some projects you’re working on to build up some skills. Either don’t do cliche projects, or don’t only do cliche projects, complete coding challenges. If you do decide to do cliche projects, go a few steps further and create something super amazine. Write the one project in lots of different frameworks or even languages. Contribute to open source. This is stuff you can talk about at interviews.
What are the cliche projects?
- The to-do list
- The Twitter/Instagram clone
- The blogging engine
Contributing to open source could be nearly anything! You can fix open issues, write documentation (there’s never enough people to write documentation), add features, talk about how you used some libraries in how-to posts. There’s always something to do.
Pick a speciality
Why pick a speciality? Any competent developer can pick up a new language in about two weeks. It won’t make you special and it won’t define you.
Keep in mind when you pick a speciality, that the technologies in demand are always changing. It could be better to pick a field and always stay ahead of the newest technologies used to implement solutions.
You could even decide to pick a few - some technologies, and a field or two. Some developers even specialise in niche languages, like COBOL or Haskell, that are only in demand by a few companies for a few applications, but pay very well and enable them to exercise skills they wouldn’t otherwise.
Write a Blog
No matter what your skill-set is, it’s better if you do the web design yourself, to represent your way of working, what your focus is. If you’re a an algo specialist, or you work with software tools, it might make more sense to have a deliberately austere aesthetic, and if you’re a front-end designer or developer, to go a bit creative with your design, show off what you can do. Some great topics are tutorials about something you’ve learned, your process for a project you’re working on or have completed. Make sure to post regularly if you can, and keep the content high quality. Don’t post for the sake of posting.
Answer questions on StackOverflow
Yes, that’s right. You’re good enough now that you can help others. This is a great way to establish authority. Hello from the other side…
Why Stack Overflow? Stack Overflow have got a reputation for being terrifying for new users, because not only do you need to be very knowledgeable about a subject, you’ve also got to be very fast in providing said answer, which means you have to watch the platform like a hawk for a while.
But if you’re brave enough it’s worth a shot.
One of our Fast Track graduates, Alex Karolis, has been answering questions on SO in his spare time between projects and he’s done pretty decently, with a score of 1,283 built up in the last five months.
Meetups tend to be centred around languages, frameworks, skill levels, fields (US, Infosec) or one marginalised group or another. This is a great opportunity to become known to other developers, and develop friendships and networks.
Talk at meetups
Yes, that’s correct, don’t only turn up and network (and learn), also become a speaker. You can do lightning talks -- short 5 minute presentations -- on a project you’ve been working on recently, and when you feel ready, start to run longer sessions.
Put together a portfolio
You might like to have many of your projects relate to your chosen speciality. Show a progression of ability, if you’re looking for your first job. A good progression might be:
Guess the number
Redesign the blogging engine
Industry focused CRM
If you’re further along in your career, choose your best work, that you’re allowed to show to the public. If you can’t, use numbers. How much faster did the page load? How many more conversions did the page get?
Participate in hackathons
They’re a good way to become known to other developers and make friends you could work with in the future.
There are always hackathons running. There are at least fifteen more this year, including HaTCHathon (Sydney, 9-11 September) – User your skills, creativity and awesomeness to help solve some of the toughest challenges facing health care today. Run by by Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies in Australia, Pedestrian Safety Hackathon (Sydney, 9 September) – University of Sydney in conjunction with the NSW Data Analytics Centre, AgriHack GRAIN (Sydney,16-18 September) – Hackathon that brings all agricultural influences together to tackle farming and social challenges, ITS MasterCard Smart Cities Hackathon (Melbourne, 8-9 October) – hackathon to build an intelligent transport solution, H(R)ackathon (Sydney 21-23 October) – hackathon to solve broad human resources concerns and Hack for Refugees: The next instalment of TechFugees is being planned for November. Follow TechFugeesAust on Twitter for updates.
Web App Builder alumni Anna Robson started RefugeeTalent with Syrian refugee Nirary Dacho during the 2015 Techfugees Sydney.
Get a Headshot
Get a nice one. That’s ‘you’. Just like your blog, it should match the representation of yourself you’ve created.
Write some Tweets
There are lots of developers on Twitter, where they share war stories. It’s a great way to connect in 140 characters or less. It’s also a place where you can be dynamic and show your personality more. Some also talk about their personal interests outside coding.
Examples of Developer Brands
The Practical Dev - Ben Halpern: coding resources & software dev management
Code Simplicity - Max Kanat-Alexander: simplifying software design
Dev Mastery - Bill Sourour: coding resources & advice on branding
Trent Shields: software architecture & aboriginal advocacy
Alan Cooper: User experience & left wing politics
Sarah Drasner: CSS & coding culture
Andrew Bennett: Information Security
Nicole Sanchez: Github employee & tech diversity
Jill Wetzler: director of engineering at Lyft
This article provides more examples.
Building a personal brand also relies on developing trustworthiness and creating a narrative.
How do you establish trustworthiness? In short:
Set ever higher standards for your work.
- Underpromise and overdeliver.
It's ALWAYS better to underpromise by a little.
Create A Narrative
There are at least four narratives about your career you could tell, when describing who you are in your about section and when you are talking to your interviewer about why you want the job.
There's maturation and quest: the way you have developed as a person makes you the right person.
There's metamorphosis and discovery: the unique skillset you have makes you best suited for the role.
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